Avoiding, Recognizing, and Dealing with Injuries

Although many people are being force fed the idea that running barefoot is the cure for all injuries, this just isn't the case. Running barefoot will reduce the rate of injury but only if done correctly. Reducing the rate does not mean no chance of injury. Running injuries, even barefoot, can come from myriad sources: too much too soon, poor form, or simply bad luck.

Avoiding Injuries

The best way not to get injured is to avoid it like the plague.  Easier said than done, but trying to follow some basic principles will help.
  1. Listen to your body and respect its wishes.  Sense what is going on when you run, what feels right and what you know to be wrong.
  2. Gradually work stresses into your routine.  Back off if necessary and regroup.
Avoid: Too Much, Too Soon

As it's been stated before, jumping into running barefoot is a recipe for disaster.  There are different muscles and different stresses that one isn't used to.  Pressing this too quickly will usually lead to injury.  If this point hasn't been driven into your brain yet, take a moment and let it hit you.  Just because you want it, does not mean that your body can handle it.

The next step, and one that I have perhaps fallen for recently, is a different form of too much, too soon.  If you've been running shodless for awhile, you are aware of and have been pushing your limits for some time. Problems arise when you push past that invisible millage limit too quickly, or for some, at all.

Building an aerobic base is the key to quality distance running.  This means running "easy", but using the amount of millage as the stressor on the body.  A conservative approach involves adding no more than 10% every 3-4 weeks, or 1 mile per run per week.  So if you ran 6 times a week, you would increase at most 6 miles, but more conservatively, 10%.   Even with these limits in place though, one must remember to listen to their body.

Just because an increase worked well for you last month does not mean that that same increase will have the same effect on you.  Running more miles means more time on your feet.  More time on your feet means more time for imperfections in your gait to cause problems.  Remember that twinge you felt in your calf?  That's now a tear.  Remember the slight pain in your arch at the end of a few runs?  Now you've got serious pain.

Listen to your body, respect it from a third persons perspective.  If a friend asked you, should I run when I have a twinge in my calf, and you'd answer "take a day off", but won't do the same for yourself, you need to have a heart to heart with yourself.  Injuries always delay training, usually much longer than preventive measures would have taken.

It is better to have avoided the injury than it is to recover from it.

Avoid: Poor Form

As miles increase, so does the stress on the body.  That is the whole purpose of increasing miles.  Your form however begins to get tested more and more.  Things that were originally non-issues have the potential to slowly work their way into problems.

But isn't running longer supposed to improve my running economy?  Well, yes it is, but only if you can stay healthy through it.

Run only as long as your form allows.  Ride the line of form fatigue, but cross over at your own peril.

Avoid: Bad Luck

We'd all avoid bad luck if we could, but sometimes it's just not possible.  A stumble during inattention, a slip on wet leaves, a car slides too far across the crosswalk.  Wait a minute though, these things sound like things that we at least had some control over.  That's because they are.

Although a slip is an accident, practicing caution and cognizance can reduce the chance of accidents.  Be mindful while you run.

Recognizing Injuries

There are way too many different way to hurt oneself, stemming from the many different way to run incorrectly. I won't delve into those, but will deal with injury on a more general level.

Recognize: pain

Pain happens, it's how you deal with it and understand it that determines the outcome of your battle. There are two types of pain in my mind, sharp pain, and fatigue pain.

Sharp pain is a shock, splitting, piercing pain in a single area that was otherwise operating fine.  These pains can be cause my muscle strains, breaks, fractures, pulls, and other serious problems.  That's why if you feel a sharp pain in any part of your body your immediate concern is to analyze it, often times stopping the run.  Most times you will decide to "walk it in", as the risk of running through the pain is extreme.  If you are familiar with the sharp pain (perhaps a side stitch), you may feel comfortable attempting to run through it.  If the pain does not begin to subside after 5 minutes or so, you'd best not attempt further as you are only causing damage.

Fatigue pain is the result of a system strain in your body.  Whether that be aerobic, muscular, or full body, this type of pain is something you want to routinely ride and conquer.

Dealing with Injuries

You're hurt.  You tried not to get hurt. You listened to your body, but you're hurt and it sucks.  Hell, it happens.  It's no fun, but the road to recovery to paved with chances to learn.

First off, don't run if you feel pain for more than 5 steady minutes.  Yes, it's that simple. Pain is your body's way of telling you it has problems.  Sometimes those problems can be resolved after warming up, but more often the problem requires your body to repair itself. In those cases, rest.  Pay the price your body demands and use the time to assess what went wrong so that next time you can avoid it.

If you are unable to determine where you took a wrong turn, it may be in your best interest to videotape yourself running, or get someone to watch, or to receive a professional assessment.

Running is evolution, adding the good, and removing the bad -- remember that this takes time.  Evolution is a slow, but incredibly powerful process.

Resources for dealing with specific types of injuries: